The Sleazy Underbelly of the Digital Marketing Industry
I wrote part one of this blogpost in a fever of anger and an absolute resolve to spread the word about the recent (to me) revelations.
Realising that you have fallen for some kind of scam always leaves an aftertaste of shame and self-disgust in one’s mouth and it took me a while to realise a couple of things.
Firstly, these are massive influencers that we’re talking about here – PR departments, entire teams dedicated to reputation management and millions of dollars at their disposal. They are quite literally pros at peddling their snake oil (roll up, roll up, you just need to do the work and here’s the handy $97 ebook of the work you need to do! Dissolves privilege, ignores all ailments and difficulties and is 100% completely colourblind! Roll up, roll up!), so let’s not feel too bad about falling for everything they’ve been saying.
Secondly, most of the interwebs isn’t actually going to give a shit.
The social media companies will not care; a lot of their superfans won’t care (or believe) that they’ve been told and sold lies and really it probably doesn’t matter either way.
But I know, and if you’re reading this then you probably do too.
We need to change the way that we do things if we actually want a meaningful and impactful business. One that makes a positive change on lives and businesses. One that moves barriers to social mobility and gives back in a tangible way. I know that sounds trite, but if not us, who? We know the future of marketing is digital, the future of business is digital and if Covid taught us anything it’s that a lot of the world can be digital if it needs to be.
We can do better.
Possible Responses to the Sleaze
So what’s an online business owner to do?! As business owners and thought leaders (shudder), do we stop collaborating altogether and stay in our own little business bubbles? Do we unfollow all the influencers? How do we know who is connected to whom? Who supports (and makes money from) the Nazi sympathisers and performative allyship peddlers? How do we untangle this complete mess of PR and cult-like mentality without sounding like a tinfoil-hatter?!
(Sidenote; after watching a few of RKA’s videos and hours of research, I explained the situation to my husband. He looked at me liked I’d lost the fucking plot and went to put the kettle on.)
It’s going to be a work in progress and uncomfortable…
1. Integrity over profit. Always.
With great power (or audience, in this case), comes great responsibility (thanks, Spiderman – I know he wasn’t the first to say this btw).
We have a responsibility to our audiences, our clients and our businesses.
We need to make sure that we only put people and products in front of our audiences that will benefit them, align with our values and bring our people the help/support/advice that they need.
Repeat after me…
It must always be of benefit to our audience (not us).
Collaborations must be backed up by thorough research. We have a responsibility to do our due diligence when partnering with anyone – whether it be promoting software solutions or selling to someone else’s audience. The bigger your audience, the more vital it is that you do this. You, not your team. YOU.
Hold collaborators accountable. Sever ties (publicly) when you need to and be bloody sincere in any apologies you need to make. And make reparations.
Protect your audience as if they were your newborn child, because they have trusted you with their time and money.
2. Check Your Fucking Privilege
How much easier has it been to get where you are today because of a lack of barriers? Acknowledge it, call yourself out on this and give extra help to those who are facing barriers that you haven’t experienced.
I’m privileged, I know I am. I’m a straight, white, middle-class woman in the UK from a privileged position where I’m working my business alongside my full-time job so I’m not all-in. This makes things infinitely easier for me than a woman of colour for example. Or a neurodiverse individual who will face barriers that I can’t understand.
Jumping on a Facebook live and saying that I’m experiencing growth and success because of my own hard work is worse than disrespectful; it’s denying others’ experiences.
3. Never Use the ‘I’m only human‘ excuse
This literally makes my fucking blood boil. I’ve seen it time and again and it never fails to get a rise (no pun intended) out of me.
The ‘I’m only human‘ excuse is a disgusting card to play; it preys on the audience relating to the girl-next-door brand that BFFs have cultivated and completely ignores that as a 6,7,8 figure business owner and a person of wealth they have access to almost unlimited resources to avoid these mistakes.
You do not get to play the ‘I’m only human’ card if you have a team of 20, millions in the bank and people at your beck and call.
As a leader and a person of influence, it is your responsibility to actively make the world a better place for everyone.
4. Have and Facilitate Uncomfortable Discussions
And I don’t just mean discussions around race, marginalisation and privilege. If someone leaves a genuine negative review on a product or service you offer, respond to it. Work it out and improve.
If someone has a negative comment about the way you run your business, discuss it with them – do not just delete threads, comments and reviews… we do not live in a George Orwell novel; we cannot just delete shit and therefore magically rewrite history as if it never happened.
We have a responsibility to our audience, even if they’ve never bought from us, to at least be honest with them.
5. Diversify Your Circle Meaningfully
That sounds like some Clubhouse trite right?! I thought long and hard about this, as we are in an informal mastermind-type WhatsApp chat group with 8/9 other business friends. As I anticipate our growth together, it would seem natural to BFF market and in fact we do it already (and we’re tiny minnows).
So diversifying your circle is about intentionally seeking out and working on your business with people outside of your experiences. This is particularly important for white people, cisgender folks and those who do not face a lot of discriminatory barriers in their lives.
6. Grow Slowly
Yeah, I know, but hear me out.
Doing all of the above whilst working in and on your business, learning how to scale, strategise and blah blah blah could slow you down.
In fact, it probably will.
If you don’t jump at every opportunity to collaborate, if you have to do meaningful research (beyond a cursory glance of an About Us page) for every single thing you recommend, then it will undoubtedly slow down your growth.
But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.
As leaders, our job is to protect those who look to us for advice. If they trust us with their time (and sometimes their money), then we better make damn sure that we are worthy of that.